The folks protesting a downtown Toronto vaccination centre were driven mad by an ice cream truck parked nearby.
The protest was hastily organized on Facebook the night before by a few active members of the anti-lockdown community who are angry that children as young as 12 could be vaccinated there without parental consent. It was one of the first vaccination centres to do so in the country and, to the anti-masker mind, represented an escalation in their war against the vaccine many of them believe is being used to kill or sterilize children and adults.
For the anti-maskers, the ice cream truck played the role of the siren drawing children to their demise.
“What about all the little kids who don’t understand anything that’s happening besides the fact that they get a fucking ice cream after they get a needle?” a woman in attendance yelled at the cops. She then mimed an interaction between child and parent: “‘Mommy, what’s (this shot) for?’ ‘It’s to protect you, honey.’
“No,” she yelled. “It’s to fucking kill them.”
As the age of for vaccines begins to lower across North America and Europe to include 12- to 17-year-olds, the anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown crowd are ratcheting up their emotive “save the children” messaging. This is no surprise. In the anti-vax movement, as well as other popular conspiracy movements like QAnon, children often are the linchpin. Matthew Remski, a journalist and podcaster who has been covering the intersection between conspiracies and the wellness community for years, told VICE World News he’s been noticing an increase in the urgency of the messaging within the movement.
“Children are always fetishized in these movements,” said Remski. “Children are the most precious commodities of these protest movements and so if you can protect them, whether they’re your children or not, from the poison or the indoctrination or the tracking device of the vaccine, you have some hope that there will be a kind of naturalistic future.”
“As vaccine coverage increases, there has to be an emotional escalation (among anti-vaxxers),” he added.
As the pandemic enters its (hopefully) last act in Western countries, the intensity shown by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown figures is likely only going to increase. For some in the community, this may be a last gasp to grow the movement and push back hard as COVID regulations begin to relax. For others, we’re entering a war for the hearts and minds of the children.
More than 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have already been administered. According to the New York Times, a majority of the populations in many Western countries have received at least one dose—vaccine inequality between the global north and south still remains a dire problem. It has only been in the last few weeks that children have been given the green light to receive these vaccinations; the European Commission did so just last week.
The displeasure of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers with this latest development isn’t just found scrawled on cardboard signs or spewed through megaphones; most of it resides online where these groups mutate and organize. The woman who screamed at police about the ice cream truck runs an international Facebook page that’s based around saving children from vaccinations. It was started in March and has grown quickly into having almost 4,000 members. In the group, parents not only share misinformation to further entrench their views but also discuss how best to ensure their children don’t get vaccinated—even if they want it.
“Hi everyone I need your help, I am trying to convince my son not to have the shit in his arm, he is 14,” wrote one U.K.-based mom to the group. “They’re coming for our children now in a big way, I’m scared and want to make sure he sees the right kind of video to help him see the truth. Please help me.”
The post received over 80 responses, with some of the people in the group sharing articles chock-full of pseudoscience or misinformation for the mom to show her son. One person even posted an anti-vax rap video so the son could see how this movement is cool and hip. Others said they felt her pain: “I have a 16yr old daughter, doesn’t live with me, in the exact same situation with her,” a mother lamented.
Journalist and pro-vaccine activist Ethan Joseph Lindenberger defied his anti-vax mother two years ago and got himself vaccinated in Ohio right after he turned 18 after researching the science. Lindenberger has since become an advocate for youth who find themselves in a similar situation. He told VICE World News he routinely hears from young people who want to get vaccinated but are worried about how their anti-vax parents are going to react.
He’s not surprised by this increase in urgency. “As we see the medical community try and actively reach herd immunity and put in that last stride to finish this marathon, we’re going to see the anti-vaxxers really trying to push back right now,” Lindenburger said. “There’s going to be a lot more outcry from them. I think that final push especially there’s going to be a lot of large protests.”
There’s been a flurry of anti-vaccination action in recent weeks across North America, some of it violent. Last week, a Tennessee woman allegedly sped through a tent that was set up to aid in vaccinations with her car, barely missing those working inside. Police say she yelled “no vaccines” as she allegedly drove through the makeshift clinic.
In April in Bend, Oregon, anti-vaxxers showed up to heckle teenagers going for vaccinations in a local high school after an outbreak; they also sent death threats to the school board that set up the clinic promising to “exact cruel and inhuman revenge.”
“I can’t say I’ll be surprised if there are more acts of violence or sabotage against vaccine clinics,” said Remski.
Data representing the number of protests is not readily available. Drew, an anti-fascist researcher who follows the Canadian anti-lockdown community closely (and didn’t want his last name used out of fear of retaliation), told VICE World News there have only been a few protests against children being vaccinated in Canada but the interest remains high.
“There is more interest in doing protests at vaccination clinics, giving sham legal notices to distributors, trying to ‘educate’ people in line to discourage them from taking vaccines, etc.” he said.
Back in Toronto, in front of the police keeping her and protesters away from those getting vaccinated and the ice cream truck, the woman made her feelings known.
“You want to arrest all of us, arrest all of us,” she screamed at the cops. “You want to beat us to the fucking ground, beat us to the ground. This is our children, we will not back down... I have the strength of four children in my soul.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.